House Committee Votes to Block Ports Deal In the latest sign of friction between President Bush and members of his party in Congress, a Republican-dominated committee votes to block the Dubai Ports World deal. The move by a House panel puts Congress on a collision course with the president, who has threatened a veto.
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House Committee Votes to Block Ports Deal

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House Committee Votes to Block Ports Deal

House Committee Votes to Block Ports Deal

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. All the reassurances of the Bush Administration have not reassured some members of the House. A key committee acted to block a Persian Gulf firm from taking over some terminal operations in American ports.

The vote was 62 in favor and only two against that measure. President Bush has threatened to veto the measure aimed at Dubai Ports World. But eight months before an election, Republicans are willing to defy the president. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR reporting:

Only the margin by which opponents of the ports deal won yesterday's vote came as a surprise. One by one, lawmakers took the sometimes-noisy mike at the appropriations committee to voice their concerns about the sale of the port facilities. Committee Chairman Republican Jerry Lewis of California said it was a matter of national security.

Representative JERRY LEWIS (Republican, California): This is a very, very important discussion. There's little question that if others don't get it, our constituents do get it, and indeed, they want to put a stop to regions like this having impact upon our ports, potentially.

NAYLOR: That was a theme sounded by many of the deal's opponents, who, like Ohio Democrat Marcy Kaptur, say they've been inundated with phone calls.

Representative MARCY KAPTUR (Democrat, Ohio): The American people elected us to do something when an issue like this comes up. I think for Congress not to do anything would be irresponsible. I can't tell you an issue that my constituents have asked me about repeatedly, repeatedly, repeatedly.

NAYLOR: The amendment approved by the appropriations panel states that the acquisition of any leases, contracts, rights, or other obligations of P and O Ports by Dubai Ports World is hereby prohibited. The language was attached to a $91 billion spending bill to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and hurricane relief, a measure the president will find hard to veto. Only Democrat Jim Moran of Virginia and Republican Jim Kolbe of Arizona opposed the amendment. Kolbe said it diverts attention from the real problem.

Representative JIM KOLBE (Republican, Arizona): We have a major port security problem in this country. This doesn't do anything about it. But it makes us think to our public that we are doing something, but it does nothing to do with that.

NAYLOR: But in this election year, Republicans are clearly more concerned with the political stakes. Democrats have been leading opposition to the deal on national security grounds, which has been an issue Republicans have heretofore owned. And with the president's approval numbers at their lowest, some of the GOP finds it's a good time to put a little distance between themselves and the White House.

Over in the Senate, Democrats took Republican leaders by surprise, offering their amendment blocking the ports deal to the lobby reform measure being debated on the Senate floor. The effort yesterday afternoon was lead by New York Democrat Charles Schumer, who's been a vocal critic of the deal.

Senator CHARLES SCHUMER (Democrat, New York): The American people want a vote. We all want a vote. We believe that a majority of senators, an overwhelming majority would vote to end the deal. Enough of them have said that already. And we're not going to rest until we get a vote on this issue.

NAYLOR: Republican leaders were furious at Schumer, whose action interrupted debate on the lobby reform bill, but they're clearly in a bind. Many GOP senators have reservations about the deal, but say the House is being rash, and should wait for the completion of a 45-day review. Some, like Senate Arms Services Committee Chairman John Warner of Virginia, hold out hope that a vote on the deal can somehow be avoided.

Senator JOHN WARNER (Republican, Virginia): Well, I may be the last man standing here, but I firmly believe for national security interests, we have to take a very balanced approach to this situation. It's just not an isolated contract. It can't be viewed as that.

NAYLOR: Warner may well be in the minority. If the nearly unanimous action by the appropriations committee in the House is an indicator, not only do a majority of Republicans and Democrats oppose the deal, but a veto-proof majority. The White House wants to avoid such a showdown, but may be running out of options. Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol.

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